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In less than five pages of Lake Thirteen (Soliloquy), Greg Herren yanks you into a tale of fear and love. Once started, I stayed and read to the finish this combination of teen romance and ghost story, unable to put it down. Of course, coming from the master of gay horror and mystery writing, this lure hardly surprised me. Still, it deserves mentioning that Herren’s latest story once again hits a home run of suspense, teen coming of age, and hauntings. Right out of the park! Long gone! The tension eases into your bones from the start, as does the creepy setting and potential hauntings. You’ll want to jump right into this gay-themed teenage horror flick.
Scotty finds himself a reluctant participant in the annual summer vacation with his mom and dad and two other families to a remote part of upstate New York. Each family comes from a different part of the country, and Scotty hasn’t seen these lifelong friends since recently coming out. Worried about how they will react to his sexuality and not at all pleased about the isolated retreat, Scotty dreads this adventure. More worrisome, he finds himself depressed about leaving behind his closeted and very hot boyfriend, Marc, with an abusive and homophobic father, especially since his cell phone hardly gets reception – and he must monitor every word he texts because Marc’s dad will read them, too.
At first glance, Herren takes the reader down a familiar horror landscape, with a group of teenagers in a forested area, visiting rural cemeteries, going out after dark against their parents’ wishes, and searching for clues to a nearly centuries old murder mystery. Cue the Halloween or Friday the 13th music and add a gay character to the mix. Yet Herren manipulates this seemingly customary horror territory into an original story that becomes part fear inducing, part murder whodunit. He writes so that you feel the emotion, as if it happens to you. At one point, Scotty explains, “I didn’t know how I’d gotten there, and there was something out there in the darkness, and it wanted me, I could feel the hate and cold emanating from it, hatred, it wanted to destroy me and kill me, and I stifled a scream and turned to run back up the path” (138). Makes me shiver all over again, just rereading it!
Scotty lies at the heart of what makes this story unique. Herren provides such a believable character, with his teen infatuation, curiosities, and rebellion, combined with that contradictory longing for safety and comfort. His inner thoughts, dreams, and anxieties guide you as you wish for his happiness and contentment, not to mention protection from the other realm. Herren captures perfectly contemporary late-teen culture. Thankfully, Scotty finds that his old friends love him, gay or straight, but this connection only manages to pull them closer to the sometimes angry spirits that haunt Lake Thirteen, and now Scotty. Indeed, Scotty receives the brunt of this trauma, as a ghost calls his name and comes to him, unbeknownst to his friends, who often stand just a few feet from him as it occurs.
All the while, this group of teen sleuths seek answers to a death and disappearance that happened long ago because they think those answers may explain the hauntings happening to Scotty. Herren plies his craft especially well in engaging the reader with this part of the novel. A history lesson come ghost story launches off the pages, so that even the reader wants these teenagers to find the answers, in part to honor the dead, and more importantly to protect the living.
Alas, explaining anything else threatens a major spoiler. Grab this book for a mid-winter chill, in preparation for a spring break outing, or because you know that Herren won’t lead you astray. Just make sure to have your flashlight handy, in case the darkness descends upon you, too.
By Greg Herren
Soliloquy of Bold Strokes Books
Paperback, 9781602828940, 264 pp.